Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Willie Gillis Generations
From my-mags.com

Norman Rockwell painted 332 magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, and never repeated a character. That is, until “Willie Gillis.”
From 1941 to 1946, Mr. Rockwell featured Willie eleven times. He took Willie from a boy to a man. The pilot for the series has taken the paintings and chronologically linked them together to tell the epic of Willie Gillis. Each of the paintings becomes the closeout still-frame of this most incredible portrait of Americana. (RUSS WEATHERFORD at russweatherford.com)

New Year's Eve
From wikipaintings.org

Willie Gillis, Jr. (more commonly simply Willie Gillis) is a fictional character created by Norman Rockwell for a series of World War II paintings that appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post (henceforth Post).
A fictional private, he appeared on a total of eleven Post covers. Gillis was a fictional everyman whose career was tracked on the cover of the Post from induction through discharge without being depicted in battle. Gillis and his fictional girlfriend were artistic depictions of some of Rockwell's real-life acquaintances who served as his models. Although Gillis was not exclusively used on Post covers, the Willie Gillis series of covers was a hallmark of Rockwell's wartime work. In Rockwell's prime and at the peak of its popularity, The Post had a subscribership of 4 million, and many of these subscribers believed Gillis was a real person.
A fictious name taken from his wife's, Willie Gillis narrated the story of a all-American innocent young boy going to war. The intent was to infuse a sense of duty, patriotism and optimism to a whole generation of young Americans embarking for war (similar to the 1917 illustration for Life magazine, "Polley Voos Fransay). It was a successful idea and the illustrations became very popular. Robert Otis "Bob" Buck, a boy from where he lived in West Arlington and who was exempt from the draft, was the model for his illustrations initially. When he also managed to be enrolled by the Navy, Rockwell used photos of him.

Willie Gillis’ Package from Home
From my-mags.com

The very first image "Willie Gillis Food Package" showed him holding a care package labeled 'Food.' He is looking hesitantly over his shoulder, while a dozen high ranked officers are starring at the package with anticipation.

Willie Gillis USO
from antarasdiary.com

A popular cover from the series "Willie Gillis USO" shows a very amused Willie being served donuts and cookies by two young dutiful USO workers.

Double Trouble for Willie Gillis
From my-mags.com

Two lovely ladies are at their mailboxes, but the situation isn’t pretty. Seems both have been communicating with the same soldier, Willie Gillis. Not the first time we find Willie in hot water. (saturdayeveningpost.com)

Willie Gillis in the Convoy
From prints.encore-editions.com

Rockwell had a flair for storytelling on canvas and liked to paint the softer side of life. His unique, yet a simple portrayal of innocent "Willie Gillis" reacting to everyday scenarios, won the affection of the American public. Many Americans thought Willie was a real person and were always curious to know more about his life. Norman made one painting of "Willie Gillis," which was not meant for cover. It was called "Willie Gillis in the Convoy." It depicted him in the back of a military truck with a rifle in his hand. Rockwell donated this painting to the Gardner High School.

Willie Gillis Home on Leave
From my-mags.com

His model, Robert Otis Buck
From saturdayeveningpost.com

The name may not be familiar to you, but the face should be. Norman Rockwell chose it for his Willie Gillis series, which portrayed events from the life of a young American GI. Willie first appeared on the cover of the Post on October 4, 1941. When he next appeared, a year later, the editors ran this short item: There have been so many questions about the first Willie Gillis cover by Norman Rockwell that we’re glad to supply a few answers. No, Willie is not a soldier. He works in a sawmill near Mr. Rockwell’s Vermont home. And that was all they said about Mr. Buck.
Over the next two years, Willie Gillis had adorned the Post cover eight times and had become a celebrity. Like Rosie the Riveter and the Americans shown in the Four Freedoms, he had become a symbol of the American war effort. He had become so popular, the Post finally divulged the model’s identity. “Willie in real life is Robert Otis Buck, known to his friends as “Little Buck.” Norman Rockwell, seeking a model for his Willie Gillis Post covers, spotted Little Buck in the summer of 1941 at a square dance at Arlington, Vermont, where the Rockwells live. “Norman stared at the boy so long,” Mrs. Rockwell said afterward, “that Buck was ready to take a poke at him until Norman finally explained that he wanted him for a model.” The following June Little Buck was graduated from Salem Washington Academy, Salem, New York, and went to work for General Electric at Pittsfield, Mass. Mr. Rockwell made a number of sketches of Little Buck for future Willie Gillis covers.”
Rockwell liked Buck’s looks. He wasn’t glamorous. He didn’t exude bravery and nobility. To Rockwell, the character of Willie Gillis was “an inoffensive, ordinary little guy thrown into the chaos of war.” He would look decent and unsophisticated, but ready to adapt to life in the Army. Rockwell also liked the fact that Buck had a medical deferment, which kept him out of the draft, so his model would be available for posing throughout the war. But by 1943, Robert Buck was tired of sitting out the war. “The trouble with the country and the world, too, is that nothing stays put. Not even Pvt. Willie Gillis. We hope your illusions are good sturdy fellows, able to take it on the chin when we report, as we feel bound to do, that Gillis is leading a double life—has been since May, when he joined the Navy.
On May fourteenth, Buck entered the Navy as apprentice seaman at the Naval Training Station at Sampson, New York. The following day the Rockwell studio at Arlington burned and all (of Rockwell’s sketches of Buck) were destroyed. The Navy, with the generous realization that life must go on for Pvt. Willie Gillis, lent him back to Mr. Rockwell long enough for the artist to make new sketches. Little Buck, who, the Rockwells agree, is a swell youngster, hopes to become a Naval flying cadet at the end of eight months’ training. He himself sees no impropriety in his up and joining the Navy after becoming, as Willie Gillis in Army togs, America’s No. 1 pin-up boy. As for his reason, it was simple. ” I just liked the Navy better,” he said. Well, it’s Willie Gillis’, excuse us—Little Buck’s, young life to lead and to offer to whatever branch of the service he prefers. We’ve always rooted for the Annapolis football team ourselves. But all the same, Willie’s turning up in the Navy does underline the instability these days of all so-called established things.”
(Thanks, Robert Buck. Goodbye, Willie Gillis by Jeff Nilsson at saturdayeveningpost.com)

Wiilie Gillis at college
From my-mags.com

In all, Buck/Gillis appeared on 11 Post covers. The last one showed him as a young man, discharged from the Army, studying at college. The American soldier was now the American scholar, one of 7.8 million Americans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. It was as happy an ending as Rockwell could have painted for the war. He gave the original painting to Buck, who never parted with it.
(Thanks, Robert Buck. Goodbye, Willie Gillis by Jeff Nilsson at saturdayeveningpost.com)

Wiilie Gillis at college
From my-mags.com

The illustration "Willie Gillis in College" gave the series a kind of happy conclusion. It showed the post war Gillis dressed in smart casual clothes smoking a pipe and sprawled next to a window reading a book. His expression is relaxed and he seemed happy in that pleasant environment. (EzineArticles.com)

Willie Gillis of World War II,
Portrayed by Norman Rockwell as
American GI, true blue,
One of all America has,
For freedom, fighting the good fight,
Then coming home safe to fulfill
A future, promising and bright,
To college on the GI bill.
In wars today, no Willie’s shown,
The sight and sound bytes give no face.
Coverage keeps a high tech tone
To keep up with war’s modern pace.
Yet, the American GI
Fights for freedom for you and I.
(Posted by Ima Ryma, May 30, 2011 at saturdayeveningpost.com)

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